DR. HOOK- Tin ear? When ringing, buzzing mean trouble

Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite painters of all time. He was so ahead of his time that he didn't know his "Starry Night" painting would look like a type of lymphoma under the microscope! 

It's so sad van Gogh didn't make money with his paintings. In fact, rumors abound that he sold only one painting when he was alive. Yikes! I wonder if he had to wear hand-me-down wooden shoes, poor Dutch fellow.

   Unfortunately, Vincent suffered from mental illness, and in his time there weren't antidepressants— eat your heart out, Tom Cruise. Supposedly he had epilepsy and one day did the unthinkable: he cut off his own ear. (Now, I have heard of an eye for an eye, but an ear...?) I wonder if he had tinnitus during his seizures, and that is why he lopped his ear— to stop the noise?

   Tinnitus means the perception of sound that a person hears when there is no external source for sound. It's like the sound of one hand clapping. Okay, forget the Zen. A person with tinnitus hears a ringing, buzzing, humming, hissing, or pulse-like sound in one or both ears.  

   About 50 million Americans have it, 12 million of whom really suffer, and the affliction can be disabling. Some people feel their ears burning when someone is thinking about them, but could you imagine having a ringing sound in your ear most or all of the time? Tinnitus that lasts 20 seconds or less and is intermittent usually is benign.  Constant tinnitus might indicate some underlying pathology.

   Sting sang "Be Still My Beating Heart," but I don't think he meant it for someone who has tinnitus. But if you can hear your heart beat or blood rushing most of the time, it might be due to things like: AVM (a tumor of veins and arteries), atherosclerosis of a nearby artery, or high blood pressure (there is some truth when someone with hypertension says, "I'm so mad my head is going to explode!'). So pulsatile tinnitus often requires a full work-up.  On the other hand, a constant hum can be a sign of increased brain pressure.

   The eardrum has three bones behind it to sort of "Morse-code" sound back to the nervous center for hearing. If the bones get stuck or the muscles that work with the bones "spaz out," tinnitus can occur.

   Eustachian tube dysfunction (you use it when you try to pop your ears open in an airplane) makes it seem like you're holding a conch shell to your ear— the roar of the ocean is there without any seagulls.

   Too much aspirin or anti-inflammatories can lead to tinnitus. So when doctors say, "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning," maybe we should add, "and don't scream into the phone if you have tinnitus." Certain blood pressure meds, antibiotics, antidepressants, BPH meds, seizures meds, and proton-pump inhibitors can cause tinnitus.

   Hearing loss can lead to tinnitus, so treatment usually involves using a hearing aid and sound therapy. Loud sounds and loud music contribute to hearing loss– did all you Charlottesville folk who play your car music so loud know that the vibrations give me a back massage? Smoking also is associated with hearing loss. Those who get ear fullness from salt and caffeine might want to lower their usage.  

   I hope I've painted a pretty picture of tinnitus in honor of Vincent van Gogh. He lost his ear, but he didn't lose his talent— until the end. Let's learn from his experience: leave ear-rings strictly for jewelry.



This is quite informative. I have quite recently begun experiencing morse code-like sounds late at night. I also tend to take a good deal of ibuprophin. I'll attempt to cut back and see what happens.

I was 17 when I had nerve damage to my left ear and the ringing started very loud...I learned to live with it which was hard for a 17 yr. old...now at 62 my good ear has started ringing..not to loud but it is there...sometimes I think it will drive me crazy...I do take 81 mg. of asprine aday Dr said to but I have been doing that for years....I have had mimi strokes so I don't dare stop takeing it....what can I do...? I use white noise at night to get to sleep and that helps alot.....can you help me..thank you for your time...patty